Fourth Quarter Surge Helps Vault Hempfield Into League Championship Game As Black Knights Eliminate Lancaster Catholic

Written by: on Friday, February 26th, 2021

 

In many ways, seeing Hempfield and Lancaster Catholic matched up against one another in Thursday night’s Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinal tilt could best be summed up by using just two words: Dramatic and ironic.

First, for the word dramatic. In Hempfield’s case, the Black Knights needed to beat McCaskey on Tuesday night in order to play themselves into the semifinal round. One might be asking with a degree of snark at this point, “What’s so dramatic about that?” Well, if you’ve spent any time around the L-L League, beating McCaskey –perhaps the most storied franchise that the conference itself has to offer— for a third time in one season is something considered farfetched at best, almost blasphemous at worst. However, Hempfield clearly didn’t have any qualms with setting forth on their own story, besting McCaskey in a 61-52 final decision on Tuesday night, effectively locking up the Section One crown once and for all this season. On the other side, from Lancaster Catholic’s perspective, dramatic may not even come close to doing it justice. After all, how could one possibly sum up a four-overtime affair which eventually saw the Crusaders reign supreme, topping rival Columbia by a 77-70 count which had amounted to a wildly entertaining game and a half of play?

Now, why ironic? Well, let’s hit the rewind button back to just a few years ago and head back to 2017. There, we’d see the last matchup between the Black Knights and Crusaders in the L-L League playoffs. In many ways, the 2017 league semifinal game between Hempfield and Lancaster Catholic remains one of the most memorable games played in the league over the last handful of seasons, albeit for a different reason. Suffice to say, it’s hard to simply gloss over and forget a 35-19 final score which sends the victor into the league championship game. In that regard, the last meeting was not so dramatic. Nevertheless, that is exactly what transpired four years ago when Lancaster Catholic outslugged Hempfield en route to claiming the league championship just a few days later.

Granted, it’s understandably hard to compartmentalize that ever-present last matchup from a years ago while also weighing the massively impressive feats that both teams had recently accomplished of late this season just a few days earlier. So, which of the two terms would win out this time around? Well, in a way, both. Why? First, Thursday night’s game ended up being far more dramatic given the countless lead changes and game-altering momentum shifts shared between the two sides. Ironic in the sense that this time the spoils of victory ultimately went in Hempfield’s favor come evening’s end.

Typically, league playoffs are a stage in which veteran, upperclassmen end up starring in leading roles. That may be true, but don’t bother telling that to Hempfield’s Miguel Pena. He simply wasn’t having any of it. In short, the Black Knights’ 6’1 sophomore point guard stole the show in the opening few minutes on Thursday night. Coming out of the gates firing, Pena proceeded to tally Hempfield’s first seven points of evening, all while helping the homestanding Black Knights go volley for volley with the purple-clad Crusaders in the initial few minutes.

Speaking of lead changes, the opening quarter provided plenty of those. First up, a second-chance follow courtesy of Lancaster Catholic 5’10 senior point guard, Nevin Roman, making it a 10-9 Crusaders’ lead before a third-chance bucket by way of Hempfield 6’5 junior forward, Cole Overbaugh, made it an 11-10 Black Knights’ advantage shortly thereafter. Speaking of Roman though, the Crusaders’ crafty vet led his troops from there on out for the remainder of the opening period by tallying seven points in succession to not only put Lancaster Catholic back out in front, but out in front by two possessions given the existing 18-14 Crusaders’ cushion with under two minutes left to play. From there, Catholic was able to build their lead up ever so slightly over the final few minutes, eventually heading into the second frame with ownership of the 20-14 advantage.

If personal salvos are more your flavor –such as Nevin Roman’s most recent charge—the second quarter provided plenty of that as well. Case in point, back-to-back bunnies inside from Hempfield 6’5 senior workhorse, Dan Sears, helping the Black Knights claw back even at 20-20 with 5:35 left before the half. Then, after going back in front at 23-20 courtesy of a smooth, pullup trey from 6’4 senior forward, Brandon Hagel, Hempfield took command of the scoreboard from there on out. The one doing the bulk of the damage? The 6’4 senior forward transfer from nearby Columbia, Davion Edmond-Greene.

After having sat out until that point on Thursday night, Edmond-Greene certainly showed no signs of rust. Once he finally checked into the contest, the Black Knights’ inside matchup nightmare wreaked havoc on the Crusaders’ front line by scoring back-to-buck buckets inside on his first two offensive possessions, upping the Hempfield lead to a touchdown at 27-20.

But just when it appeared that Hempfield would be able to head into the recess with all the momentum, here came Lancaster Catholic. Most notably, here came Lancaster Catholic led by Ross Conway.

After spotting Hempfield the three-possession lead, the Crusaders’ 6’3 senior stretch forward answered back admirably by firing in five key points in the latter stages of the second stanza from both inside and outside the three-point arc, eventually helping Lancaster Catholic race back to within four at 31-27 with just over two minutes still left to go in the opening half. Then, once the dust had finally settled on a wild back and forth 16 minutes of action, the scoreboard inside Hempfield’s Buchannan Gymnasium displayed the home team still out in front, 32-29.

In the third quarter, Lancaster Catholic did an about-face.

With their offense largely stymied up until that point by the suffocating Hempfield D, the Crusaders finally found their offensive flow once the second half began. In fact, Lancaster Catholic wasted little time in that regard seeing as how the Crusaders began with a trifecta knocked down on their opening possession by 6’4 senior forward, Jaxon Weyforth, making this even matchup reflect perfectly given the 32-32 tie score. Later, Catholic kept the pedal down with two consecutive buckets tallied by arguably the MVP of the entire L-L League, Devin Atkinson, making it a 36-32 Crusaders’ lead, forcing Hempfield to call an impromptu timeout to try and right the ship. While it certainly wouldn’t be an easy chore, Hempfield gradually and methodically responded in due time. In fact, while it may have been easy to get overlooked at that point in time, Hempfield’s Dan Sears may have authored the game-saving play. With his team trailing by five in the waning minutes of the third, the Black Knights’ tallest player appropriately came up with one of the biggest plays of the ballgame, earning himself a hoop plus the harm, all while effectively slicing down Catholic’s existing cushion to 40-37 with 2:45 left. Ironically –there’s that word again—Lancaster Catholic was able to keep their lead remaining at three heading into the final stanza, 42-39.

The fourth quarter though? We might as well call that “The Ryan Hilton Show.”

With his team having surged into the lead following back-to-back buckets throw in by Edmond-Greene and Overbaugh respectively, the Black Knights’ 6’1 senior guard morphed into his usual assassin self with the game on line. As he has done several times this season, Hilton stepped up with the game firmly hanging in the balance. In this edition, Hilton rose to the occasion by tallying three back-breaking buckets in quick succession –with equally cold-blooded pullup jumpers accompanied with a hard-earned, second-chance bucket inside—suddenly making it a 49-42 Hempfield lead with time starting to run out on the Crusaders. Then, just as he had in the second quarter, Ross Conway tried his best to help ignite a Lancaster Catholic comeback bid by tossing in two consecutive buckets in his own right to help draw the Crusaders back to within three at 49-46, all while going on to finish as Catholic’s leading scorer on the evening with a game-high 15-point effort.

Yet again –ironically of course—when harkening back to the second quarter on Thursday night, that is where we saw the emergence of Hempfield’s Davion Edmond-Greene. Sure enough, just he had done in the second frame, Edmond-Greene proved his worth in the final stanza as well, this time with another tough bucket amongst the Crusaders’ tall trees, making it a sizable 54-48 Hempfield lead with just under two minutes remaining. And although Catholic would have one last charge in them thanks to a 2-3 Jaxon Weyforth trip to the charity stripe after getting fouled while shooting a three, that would be all the closer the Crusaders would get the rest of the way as a perfect 4-4 exhibition in free throw shooting from Hempfield’s Miguel Pena down the final stretch helped prove to be proverbial nail in the coffin as Hempfield was able to vanquish a very good Lancaster Catholic bunch, rightfully earning themselves a date opposite of Lebanon in the L-L League championship game on Saturday afternoon at Manheim Township.

“They’re so well-coached and they’re skillful,” Hempfield head coach Danny Walck said of Lancaster Catholic afterwards in wasting no time to praise the opposition. “You say, ‘What do we do here?’ I thought we had to stay connected. I thought we had to be balanced,” Walck said. “We switched defenses for several possessions and we were fortunate where they missed some shots and we got it, came down, and opened up a five-point lead or whatever it was. It’s just one of those things where sometimes it works out for you. Fortunately, tonight was our night.”

“In games like these, you know it’s going to be a game of runs,” Walck acknowledged in playing a team the caliber of Lancaster Catholic. “You just hope you have one more than they do. You gotta play (the game) in those chunks, those segments. The biggest thing is win the next possession. That’s all. Win the next possession.”

The young man that helped Hempfield win those multiple possessions down the stretch? None than other than Ryan Hilton. Well, he and his fellow Black Knights that dot the front line of course.

“He was pretty special down the stretch,” Walck acknowledged of Hilton’s late game heroics. “That pullup jumper? He’s been working on that a long time this summer. It’s paid dividends. You talk about Davion, he was huge down the stretch. I thought Danny (Sears) was huge up front. Between those two, I thought they had a great performance. They’re the blue-collar guys.”

The other thing about those three? They all happen to be seniors. Not only that, but seniors playing in the most challenging of circumstances this season.

“You know, when you’re a senior and you’ve invested so much, this is why you do it. We didn’t know if we were even going to have a season. We talk about this a lot. Every time you have an opportunity to go through that door, it’s a blessing. We went through that door one Saturday morning and five minutes before we get on the bus to go to Governor Mifflin, we’re not permitted to go because of contact tracing,” said Walck highlighting a unique circumstance his team faced this season while playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “Every school, every coach, has been through this and has worked extremely hard under these conditions. I don’t know if people realize the energy it takes because when you start and stop, start and stop, start and stop, you’ve got to be creative in how you keep the kids engaged because they’re deflated. They’re like, ‘Here we go again.’ But when you have guys like that who have put hours and hours and hours into their game, this is why you live for this moment. To me, there’s nothing like high school sports. You go off and go over here and over there to play afterwards, you’ll always refer back to those high school buddies in most cases because it’s so special. The seniors on Catholic, I’m thrilled that we got to play them, and I’m thrilled for their success. Every senior.”

NEXT UP: In taking down Lancaster Catholic on Thursday night at home, Hempfield now sets their sights on the Section Two champion, Lebanon, in Saturday afternoon’s title tilt at Manheim Township after the Cedars were able to skate past Cocalico in Thursday night’s other semifinal. Ironically, although the Black Knights and Cedars were originally slated to play one another in crossover action this season, that matchup ultimately never came to pass which means that Saturday’s championship game between these two familiar foes likely comes dripping with even more intrigue than it originally would.

For Lancaster Catholic, although this loss to Hempfield will sting for a while, all is certainly not lost in the Crusaders’ camp by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, one could easily make the argument that Lancaster Catholic has the opportunity to perhaps emerge as the only L-L League team which advances onto the PIAA tournament in a few weeks given that the Crusaders enter the District 3-3A field as odds on favorites to not only reach that 3A final, but likely the prohibitive favorite in general as well.

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